Ascended to Heaven
Mark 16:19 starts out with the words “So then.” Some translations say “Then” or “Therefore.” The term used in Greek is “men,” which is an untranslatable particle. In other words, it is a part of speech that the Greeks used that we do not have a word for. The significance of this word is that it indicates that two things are going to be contrasted. Usually, it is accompanied by the word “de,” which is often translated “and” or “but.” In Mark 16, verse 19 begins with “men,” and verse 20 begins with “de.” This means that these two verses are intended to be contrasted with each other.
Verse 19 tells us what Jesus did (and is doing) after the resurrection. Verse 20 tells us what His disciples did (and are doing) after the resurrection. These two verses define the Church age, which started on that day and continues to this.
First, verse 19 tells us what Jesus did after the resurrection.
Mark 16:19 says, “After the Lord had spoken to them.” The Lord Jesus gave them instructions following His resurrection.
First, He taught them about faith.
Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, and she went and told those who had been with Him. They were mourning and weeping because of His death. They did not believe her. After all, they had watched Him die.
Next, He appeared to two of them as they walked through the countryside. They returned to Jerusalem and told the others. However, the others would not believe. Finally, He appeared to the eleven. At this point, He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart. John gives us some insight into this unbelief when He tells the story of Thomas.
John 20:27–29 (NKJV) 27Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
28And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
29Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The eleven saw Jesus die and would not believe until they saw the resurrected Lord. Thomas heard the testimony as more eyewitnesses spoke, but he was no different than the rest. Even when they saw Him, Jesus needed to demonstrate to them He was not a ghost by eating in their presence and by letting them touch Him. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus expressed frustration with their unbelief when He said:
Mark 9:19 (NKJV) O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?
We all believe based on the testimony of eyewitnesses. Around 500 people saw the Lord Jesus after the resurrection. Since that time, the world relies on the testimony of those eyewitnesses. As Hebrews tells us, without faith, it is impossible to please God. Before and after the resurrection, Jesus taught faith.
The next thing Jesus spoke about after the resurrection was what we are to be doing.
He did not leave instructions for buildings. This was a change from the Old Testament when God gave detailed instructions on how and what to build. He did not leave instructions for religious practice. This also was a change from the Old Testament, where God gave detailed instructions on how He was to be approached.
After the resurrection, Jesus told the disciples, in several locations and different ways:
Mark 16:15 (NKJV) Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
He made it abundantly clear that this is what He wants.
Having spoken concerning these things, the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
That is where He is today. He will return. The angels announced it, and Jesus promised it. Although we disagree on the details, every Christian denomination teaches that Jesus will return. This is essential to our faith, so much so that if a sect or group does not believe that Jesus will return, we do not call them Christian.
While He is seated at the right hand of the Father, Jesus is interceding for us. Romans 8:34 tells us:
Romans 8:34 (NKJV) Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
Jesus prays for us. He pleads our case before God. He is uniquely qualified to do this in that He has been tempted in all ways that we are. He is the only one who can do this, as 1 Timothy 2:5 tells us.
1 Timothy 2:5 (NKJV) For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.
Mark 16:19 tells us that having spoken to His disciples, Jesus ascended into heaven. This is set in contrast to His disciples who remained on the earth. They watched Him leave, and then Mark 16:20 tells us:
Mark 16:20 (NKJV) And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
They went out and preached everywhere.
Most scholars agree that Mark wrote his gospel in Roman under Peter’s direction somewhere around 65 A.D. By that time, 35 years after the resurrection, the gospel was being preached all over the Roman empire, in Africa and (if tradition is correct) in Asia.
The spread of the gospel followed the pattern Jesus gave in Acts 1:8.
Acts 1:8 (NKJV) But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
The gospel started in Jerusalem with the resurrection and then quickly spread throughout Judea and Samaria. By the time Mark wrote, it had spread to the end of the earth as far as Mark knew.
However, the gospel did not spread by human ingenuity or cleverness. Mark 16:20 tells us that the Lord worked with them.
We can refer back to Acts 1:8 again as we consider the words of Jesus to His disciples. “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
The Holy Spirit empowers the Christian for holy living and for witness. The Holy Spirit works within us to form Christ in us. Here is the tricky part. We can grieve the Spirit by not yielding to Him. Many of us choose this path, as can be seen in the disfunction and sin within the Church. But God has promised that if we walk by the Spirit, we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.
In the book of Genesis, we read about the people of the earth soon after the flood. Everybody on the planet was descended from Noah, and they all spoke the same language. So they got together and decided that they would build a tower to keep themselves from being scattered over the entire earth. At that point, God came down and divided them up by giving them different languages. The critical point here was that God had commanded them to spread throughout the whole earth.
Jesus gave His disciples the command to go to the far corners of the world. But they all liked Jerusalem, spoke the same language, and grew up in the same culture. They naturally stayed in Jerusalem. Therefore, God spread them by letting persecution drive them from Jerusalem.
God working with them did not always mean smooth sailing. James must have learned this lesson well because he wrote:
James 1:2 (NKJV) My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.
There is a saying that goes:
What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
Except for bears...bears will kill you!
Pardon my levity, but Jesus told us that in this world, we will suffer. Suffering does not mean that God is not working with us. If God had not allowed persecution in Jerusalem, the infant Church might have died right there in the cradle.
The book of Acts tells the incredible story of God’s working through the Apostles to establish the Church. The account starts in Jerusalem and recounts events up to the founding of the Church in Rome. However, the book does not end. The last two verses of the book of Acts say:
Acts 28:30–31 (NKJV) 30Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, 31preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.
Some may consider this the end, but the story continues to this day.
Have you heard of Hudson Taylor, the English man who took the gospel to China? Have you read the account of Jim Elliot and the men who gave their lives to get the gospel to the Huaorani people of Ecuador?
What about the story of Tom and Marcy Dorsch, who spent many years telling people in Africa about the Lord Jesus?
What about Kirk and Becca Tjaden’s story, who are working to spread the gospel in Africa, or Johnny and Sarah Reeves, who are working to help get the gospel to the people of Papua New Guinea?
The story of Acts will continue until Jesus comes.
Mark 16:20 mentions the accompanying signs.
Some of the signs are listed in Mark 16:17-18. These signs include casting out demons, speaking in new languages, and taking up serpents. We know the account of the snake that bit Paul, but we are not aware of how many have been preserved as they’ve served the Lord in the wilds. We know a number that have spoken new languages, including Kirk and Becca, Johnny and Sarah, Tom & Marcy, and Joe and Jeretta.
Many signs accompany the work of the Lord.
When Jeretta and I were raising support to go to the mission field, we were still considerably short as the time for our departure drew near. We had no idea where the funds would come from. Then we received a call from our home church. The board had decided to give toward our ministry in Japan. If you want to know how much, it was enough. We bought our tickets and started packing.
Jesus is alive. He ascended to heaven. In contrast to this, we are on earth. But He has not deserted us. He is active. He works with us and confirms the work in many ways.
His instructions have not changed. We are to preach the gospel to every creature. And we are to believe. The one rebuke that He had for His disciples was because they would not believe He was alive. The one judgment He has against the world is their unbelief. John 3 explains it like this:
John 3:18–19 (NKJV) 18“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
Make sure that you are numbered among those who believe!